THE BROKER by John Grisham

No doubt about it, John Grisham is a cracking storyteller, and “The Broker” is a gripping read from start to finish.

This is one of the least “legal” of Mr. Grisham’s novels (at least amongst the ones I have read) and even though the broker in question is indeed a lawyer, he is more of a political lobbyist. Joel Backman is in fact one of the most powerful men in Washington, the ultimate high-flyer, a man who wheels and deals at the highest echelons of the Washington power structure.

Until he ends up in jail, that is, disbarred, bankrupt and in solitary confinement.

One of the last acts of possibly the most ineffective US President ever, is to pardon Joel Backman, at the apparent behest of the CIA, who immediately fly him out of the US and off to Bologna in Italy, under an assumed name and with a handler, Luigi, whose sole mission is, it would appear, to get Joel to learn Italian as quickly and effectively as possible.

There is a lot of Italian in this book, and a lot of wandering through the historic city of Bologna which, one can only imagine, Mr. Grisham loves a lot.

The contrast between Italy and the US is often highlighted, be it the food, the long lunches, the smoky cheek-by-jowl tables in cafés, and we spend many a happy hour in Joel’s company as he discovers a new city, a new country, a new language and a whole new way of life.

But danger is never far away, and Joel Backman is soon on the run – but from whom?  His own country, in the guise of the the CIA and/or the FBI?  Or someone else?

To answer those questions would obviously be a major plot-spoiler, so I won’t.

Suffice it to say, you are gunning for Joel Backman all through this exciting, fast-paced book, and as he ducks and dives and weaves to escape from something he doesn’t fully understand, you the reader are hooked.


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And, yes, one day I definitely intend to visit Bologna, inspired by Mr. Grisham…



The blurb on the cover of  Ravi Subramanian’s 5th book “The Bankster” talks of “the John Grisham of banking”.

Like John Grisham, Mr. Subramanian certainly knows his facts and figures in his appointed area of expertise, that’s for sure. So there is that much in common with Mr. Grisham.

But what Mr. Subramanian desperately needs is a better editor.

Shoddy, sloppy editing marred what is otherwise a deeply researched, complex tale of banking skullduggery on a massive scale.

I didn’t count, but  (and I think I’m correct) every time the author wrote “at least,” this is what we got :


That is just downright poor editing, and unworthy of someone of Mr. Subramanian’s obvious intelligence.

The novel ranges between Mumbai, Vienna, Kerala and Africa, with 3 stories running parallel. The Mumbai sections are far and away the strongest, which is hardly surprising, since the author was a banker for 20 years and lives in Mumbai, so there was an intensity and authenticity about the Mumbai sections.  The Mumbai voices rang true.

Mr. Subramanian’s attention to banking detail is impressive, and you never for a moment doubt the accuracy and the authenticity of the plot.  Banking scams happen the world over, that we all know, and the plot of “The Bankster” unravels a complex tale of financial deceit on a truly massive, deeply embedded scale.

The Kerala story, about a nuclear power station and the manipulative politics of protest, is touching, but it was only in the final paragraphs that I joined the dots.  Perhaps I am a little dim, but a few pointers would certainly have helped me.  As it was, I spent most of the book wondering why and when and where Kerala and Mumbai would intertwine.  It ultimately makes total, satisfying sense, but only in the dying seconds of the book.

The same can be said of the African section, though those dots were joined for me in the Vienna part of the story – I obviously can’t tell you the ins and outs of the plot, otherwise the intricate storyline of “The Bankster” will be spoiled for you.  Suffice it to say that, once again, I could have wished for the African section to be a tad stronger.

But the Mumbai sections can’t be faulted for their painstaking attention to detail, which is why they are faster-paced and dominate the book.  There is something enthralling about reading a novel that purportedly took place earlier this year –  all those dates and times at the beginning of the chapters bringing the action ever closer certainly make things exciting.

Technology plays a large part in the book, which is only natural given the way banking has evolved, and so most of the young bankers in the story use their mobiles and laptops and iPads and iPhones and Blackberries and voice mails as seamlessly as we, the readers, do.

And I also fully understand that the author needs to make sure all his readers are up to (technological speed) especially when technology is vital to the plot, but just occasionally the otherwise natural style of writing faltered :



This sounds more like a technical note, rather than a natural dialogue, which is a shame.

Ditto the supposed conversation below :


 A good read.

A clever, intricate plot.

But a plea to the publishers, Rupa – please, don’t let poor editing mar good writing.

Published in 2012 by Rupa, the paperback of “The Bankster” costs Rs 250.

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